Power StrugglesWe all know that power struggles are a real challenge. But did you know that a good dose of empathy cures power struggles?

When children object, complain, or disapprove of your requests, it can be tempting to react with anger and frustration. Even so, it is important for a child to know that you can understand what he’s going through when power struggles erupt.

Empathy Cures Power Struggles

One of the best ways to neutralize a power struggle is to become empathic.  Doing so gives children the assurance that you are trying to understand things from their perspective.  I know that feeling and expressing empathy might not be your first response to frustrating and obnoxious behavior. However, expressing empathy in heated moments can help you:

  1. Show children that you accept them
  2. Keep the situation calm
  3. Stay emotionally responsive instead of reactive when he protests
  4. Calm his aroused nervous system.

Even more, an empathic statement (“You seem upset…”  “You are mad and want mommy to know that…”) can help you bring children out of the reactive state and back into a receptive state where they can hear you again.

Here’s how to soften the blow of any power struggle

Connect emotionally before you correct behavior. (This is huge!)  Research shows that children who feel understood by parents demonstrate higher levels of self-control.

Make sure that your expectations are in harmony with what children can emotionally and physically deliver.  Telling your two-year-old (who is either hungry, lonely, or tired) to stop fussing reflects expectations that are too high.

Remember to slow down, find your compassion, and soften your voice as you express empathy. The key is to use your empathic voice to “join” children or “make contact” emotionally.

Keep your empathic statements simple.  Don’t use a bunch of words to communicate that you understand what your little one is going through.

For your convenience, I have listed some empathic statements.  The key is to keep ’em simple and try to memorize one, maybe two responses that fit with your personality.  As you read the list below, imagine that your child is objecting, complaining, or protesting against one of your requests.  Now imagine that you are slowing down, finding your compassion and then speaking from a calm and empathic place and saying:

I know… you are angry or hurt.

Looks like you’re having a tough time, buddy.

This is so sad… looks like you have to take a break.

What a bummer… now you have to be away from the fun.

I know that you are frustrated, but sweetie it’s time to _____.

I know… sometimes it’s hard when we can’t have what we want.

A Point To Ponder

To help you build an empathic bridge with your youngster, pick your favorite statement, write it on a bunch of “Post It” notes and post them all over the house.  I’m not kidding, post ’em everywhere.  As you remind yourself of your favorite statement, you will notice that your compassion and empathy will increase and power struggles will decrease.  One thing is certain; your children will thank you for it and family harmony is sure to follow!


Author: Steve Cuffari For many, Steve Cuffari is the mentor that parents call on to make their parenting style warmer, easier and more effective. He is the founder of In Touch Parenting, a company devoted to helping today’s parents calm the chaos, raise emotionally intelligent kids, and nurture families that thrive.         read more about Steve Cuffari here…


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